I stepped back, startled.
"Smile!" he ordered.
I smiled, terrified.
"There! Was that so hard?" he demanded. It wasn't a friendly question, either. It was like he was my father, and he was setting me straight on the way to behave in public. He kept staring at me fiercely for another few seconds, and then he went back across the street -- he had crossed the fucking street to correct my aberrant behavior -- and strode off into the hardware store: a man in his mid-forties, dressed in khaki pants and a white shirt, his dark hair cut short, wearing work boots and red suspenders. I stood where I was, watching him out of sight.
Why do I tell you this story now?
This story showed up in the NYTimes recently.
It's a parenting tale, about a woman who was raised, as I was, and as many of us were, to be good girls -- to be compliant, to please everyone: to smile.
I remember, for instance, when I was sixteen, on one of my first dates, how when I didn't want to "make out," as we called it then, and he did, how the guy shoved me up against the door of my parents' house and shoved his hands into my shirt, forced his tongue into my mouth, shoved himself against me -- how this went on for what seemed like a very long time. How when it was done, I went inside and cried. How I told no one, not for years. Because he was a nice guy. Because our parents were friends. Because I didn't want to make trouble.
I remember, for instance, out running one evening in New Orleans after dark -- I often ran after dark, because running during the day was impossible, due to the vicious heat. I was very near to home, only five or six blocks away, when this light-colored Chevy began following me. I watched it side-eyed, being, by this time (17 or so) no stranger at all to fuckwads in cars shouting rude shit at me while I ran (Hey, babe, nice tits being the least of it).
When I was less than a block from home, the car pulled up beside me. "Hey," the guy in it said. "Hey. Hey. Want to get in? Come home with me. Come on. We'll go back to my place and fuck."
"No, thank you," I said. Politely.
I remember, for instance, this time when I was standing at a bus stop, twenty years old, on my way to work. It was raining, and I had an umbrella. This guy came up to me. Young. Smirking. Setting off my perv alarms. "Hey," he said. "I forgot my umbrella. Okay if I share yours?"
"Oh, sure," I said: politely.
He crowded in close. Very close. It soon became apparent that he had a boner, and that he was rubbing it against me.
What did I do, dear readers? Not a fucking thing. Because it would be rude to scream and swear at him and hit him with my umbrella. It would be making a fuss.
I remember, for instance, when one of my professors -- I was a senior -- hit on me, how I smiled, politely, politely, as I backed out of his office. No, thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you.
That was me before I learned to be a feminist. I can't believe now that I ever thought or acted that way, but I swear to you, dear readers, that all of that is true.
This is why this story in the NYTimes hits home for me.
I want my daughter to be tough, to say no, to waste exactly zero of her God-given energy on the sexual, emotional and psychological demands of lame men — of lame anybodies. I don’t want her to accommodate and please. I don’t want her to wear her good nature like a gemstone, her body like an ornament.
Yes. Yes. That is what we want for our children -- not just girls, as Newman notes, but especially for girls, who do not have male privilege to protect them.
But -- no surprise -- those who are smugly ensconced in their fat wads of male privilege are made very sad indeed by Newman's post.
Here is Rod Dreher, being very disapproving: "Catherine Newman is one strange mommy. She writes in the NYT that she does not want her daughter to be nice."
And this one, which I include because it is a prime example of the very topic in question -- here we have a woman doing her best to please the Mens on the Blog (which it did: Rod gave her major Brownie points for this comment, as did at least one another fella commentor. You go girl!)
My point -- and I do have one -- this socialization of women to please not just the men in their lives, but everyone on their lives, is still on-going.
We're still meant to be caretakers to the world.
This is not just a problem (as long as we're doing all the unpaid, unacknowledged caretaking in the world, in our households, in the workplaces (if you're in the academy, you know what I'm talking about here), then we have so much less time and energy to get our work done); it is also a danger.
It is a danger because so long as we think we need to subsume our own needs, our own selves, in order to keep everyone else happy and safe, we are putting our selves, and teaching our daughters to put themselves, at risk.
I leave you with one last comment from Rod's blog:
Update: See also this post from NicoleandMaggie, over at Grumpy Rumblings of the (formerly!) Untenured, for other aspects of this issue: "The Bitch Face."
Update II: Yeah, see this from Captain Awkward, also. (H/T Nicole&Maggie again!)